Texas Longhorns linebacker Jordan Hicks just has to let the tape do the talking.
Season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2013 earned the former five-star prospect a reputation as an injury-prone player, concerns he won't be able to totally allay until he takes the field in the uniform of the NFL team that drafts him and shows that he can stay healthy through the brutal 16-game schedule.
Under new head coach Charlie Strong, Hicks finally capitalized on his significant potential as a senior, recording 147 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. His total tackles were the most for a Longhorns player since 1992 and ranks No. 7 on the school's all-time single-season list. In games against UCLA and Iowa State last fall, Hicks set his career high with 18 tackles.
Much like defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Hicks helped his cause in February at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, putting up impressive testing numbers:
Hicks measured at 6'1 and 236 pounds, with 32-inch arms and 10-inch hands.
The official 40-yard dash time from Hicks probably wasn't quite what he wanted, but he made up for it with the explosiveness and agility to finish with the No. 5 vertical jump among linebackers, the No. 2 time in the three-cone drill, and the No. 2 60-yard shuttle. His 20-yard shuttle also ranked No. 4 at his position.
In fact, the three-cone drill by Hicks ranked as the 13th-best mark among linebackers since 2006.
And the split on his 40 time was also impressive:
Texas LB Jordan Hicks unofficially ran a 4.65 and a somewhat eye-popping 1.53 split. Ideal short-time for a player like him.— Dion Caputi (@nfldraftupdate) February 22, 2015
Since Hick performed so well at the Combine, he was able to rest on his testing numbers from that time when NFL personnel travelled to Austin in March for the school's Pro Timing Day, though he did show well in individual drills by taking fluid drops and generally demonstrating the same athleticism that helped him excel in Indianapolis.
One of the highly-touted recruits in recent Texas history, Hicks was a rare late pledge for the Longhorns in 2010 when he committed on the same day as fellow elite prospect Jackson Jeffcoat on what came to be known as Five-Star Friday. Out of Lakota West High School in West Chester, Ohio, Hicks was the No. 1 outside linebacker, the No. 1 player in Ohio, and the No. 7 prospect overall. The recipient of numerous prep honors including the high school Butkus Award and an invitation to the 2010 Under Armour All-American game.
Despite all the injuries, including a torn Achilles that ended his junior season against Kansas State in the season's fourth game, Hicks still managed to maintain most or perhaps even all of the athleticism that made him such an elite prospect out of high school. As a result, once he became comfortable in Strong's schemes, he was able to create the interceptions that eluded him until this season.
In fact, showing scouts his coverage versatility was a major priority for Hicks at the Texas Pro Timing Day.
"Just showing them my movement and my ability to be a smooth linebacker," Hicks said in March. "A big thing now is being a three-down linebacker, and that's something I'm trying to show that I can play every single play, play the run, play the pass, and can show my ability to move.
On two critical occasions against West Virginia last fall, the Mountaineers were able to isolate Hicks in coverage across the middle, once against star wide receiver Kevin White, but Hicks was able to make the tackle both times. Other than the interceptions, those plays represented some of the highlights for the Texas linebacker in coverage, as both came in the red zone.
A look at Hicks also reveals the type of work ethic that he possesses behind the scenes. How else would he recover so quickly from his Achilles injury to post historically-significant agility times at the NFL Scouting Combine? As he did as a 220-pounder out of high school, Hicks simply looks like an NFL linebacker.
It's also hard to argue with his production as a senior -- even star linebacker Derrick Johnson never managed to rack up the number of tackles that Hicks recorded in 2014. Though Hicks isn't a big-time striker from the linebacker position, he simply doesn't make miss many tackles. The agility from his testing numbers also shows up on film, as Hicks has the range to make plays from sideline to sideline. He's at his best when able to use his diagnostic abilities and athleticism to shoot gaps and make plays before offensive linemen can engage him.
Along with the torn hip muscle that ended his junior season in 2012, Hicks also suffered that torn Achilles and was banged up at other times during his freshmen and sophomore seasons, increasing the concerns about his injury history.
Hicks is also known as a player who isn't able to consistently freelance effectively or use his football intelligence to make plays outside of the scheme.
Perhaps the biggest area for Hicks to improve is beating blocks -- against Baylor he wasn't shedding offensive linemen at the second level until he had already been displaced by several yards. He may be a solid tackler, as well, but he often gave up yards after contact because he's not a player with great natural form-tackling ability that can immediately arrest momentum.
The injury history of Hicks makes him something of a risk for any team, but it speaks to his accomplishments as a senior that his stock is now at a much higher level than it was a year ago. Either an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, Hicks doesn't have any particular constraints schematically other than his weaknesses in beating blocks and a lack of prototypical size for an NFL linebacker.
It's his physical skills that will make him appealing to an NFL team, according to NFL.com's Lance Zierlein.
"Hicks sticks to the script and "plays through a straw" -- seeing just what is in front of him -- but he has the necessary size, speed and athleticism to stick in the league," Zierlein writes. "Hicks is an improving player who will live in the film room and might end up overdrafted on the upside potential."
If Hicks can stay healthy, he has starter upside and could have a long NFL career. He's not likely to ever become an All-Pro player or even challenge for that right given his limitations, but Hicks does have the physical and mental tools that will appeal to NFL teams.
Draft projection -- Round 4 or 5
The draft projections for Hicks are generally in the same rage as the one from NFL.com listed above, so he'll almost certainly come off the board on the draft's third day, but the seven-round mock draft from the same site has the Cincinnati Bengals taking him with the last pick in Thursday's third round, right at the high end of his projections.
Other than the ties to the area after going to high school in the Cincinnati area, Hicks was back in town to work out during the offseason and also participated in a workout for the team on April 15. For what it's worth, CBSSports.com has the Bengals taking Hicks with the team's fourth-round pick.